Thursday, May 2, 2019


The killing of Palestinian protesters by Israeli forces in Gaza and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi Arabian consulate glaringly illustrated the unaccountability of Middle Eastern and North African states that resorted to lethal and other violence to repress dissent.
The crackdown on civil society actors and political opponents increased significantly in Egypt, Iran and Saudi
Arabia. In all, dozens of women human rights defenders there were targeted for advocating women’s rights or protesting against violence against women or sexual harassment. Across the region, authorities used arbitrary detention, excessive force against protesters and administrative measures to restrict civil society. Despite the repression, 2018, like 2017, saw limited positive developments at a legislative and institutional level with respect to women’s rights and violence against women. Developments in Lebanon and Tunisia raised faint hopes of the beginnings of change in the general situation in which same-sex sexual relations are criminalized across the region; however, authorities in these and other countries arrested and prosecuted people for their real or perceived sexual orientation. Armed hostilities in both Iraq and Syria decreased. As a result, fewer civilians were killed, but many continued to suffer the impact of serious violations, including war crimes, committed by all parties to the conflicts in Libya, Syria and Yemen particularly, as well as the devastating humanitarian situations that arose from or were exacerbated by their actions. Significant developments aimed at addressing past violations occurred in Lebanon and Tunisia. Ethnic and religious minorities faced persecution by states and armed groups in countries including Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
There were some positive developments at a legislative level in Morocco, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with respect to migrant and/ or domestic workers, but workers in these and other countries continued to face exploitation and abuse and subSaharan migrants, as well as refugees and asylum-seekers, were subjected to a widespread crackdown in Maghreb countries. Restrictions on access to water for drinking and other household use in marginalized communities in Iran, Iraq and Tunisia raised concerns about discrimination and fuelled protests. Across the region, government measures in the name of security led to arbitrary detention and unfair trials, torture and other ill-treatment, denaturalization and border control orders, as well as, in Egypt, the use of banned weapons and extrajudicial executions. There were some limited positive developments with respect to the death penalty, but high numbers of individuals continued to be executed in Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, many after being sentenced to death in unfair trials. The political crisis in the Gulf that started in 2017 continued to impact the human rights of thousands of individuals living across the region, separating families and disrupting education.

LETHAL AND OTHER VIOLENCE Two heavily mediatized events – the killing of scores of Palestinian protesters by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on 2 October – glaringly illustrated the unaccountability of Middle Eastern and North African states that resorted to lethal and other violence to repress dissent. According to a local human rights organization, at least 180 were killed, among them 35 children, in the Gaza protests, which started in March and called for the right to return of refugees to land from which they were displaced 70 years earlier, and an end to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. 
Both events led to scrutiny and pressure for accountability, but not concrete action towards it. In the first case, the UN Human Rights Council established a commission of inquiry to look into the killings, many of which were unlawful, and other abuses, but the Israeli authorities characteristically refused to co-operate and past practice indicated that any domestic investigations would be deeply flawed and fail to deliver justice. In the second, senior officials in the governments of Saudi Arabia’s Western allies questioned the evolving official narrative about the killing and made statements to emphasize the importance of accountability. However, they failed to respond positively to civil society calls for a UN investigation, which, given the allegation that the kingdom’s crown prince was involved in the crime and the subservience of its judiciary to the palace, would have been the only process capable of exposing the truth about who ordered the murder. 
In Syria, the government disclosed the death of some of those subjected to enforced disappearance in previous years by updating civil status records, but failed to provide the families with remains. Tens of thousands of people, including peaceful activists and government opponents, humanitarian workers, lawyers and journalists remained disappeared. 
Elsewhere, states used excessive force to repress demonstrations. In Iran, where tens of thousands of men and women took to the streets throughout the year to protest against poverty, corruption, repression and authoritarianism, security forces beat unarmed protesters and used live ammunition, tear gas and water cannons against them, causing deaths and injuries. In Iraq, security forces in Basra killed over a dozen protesters and injured hundreds of others when they fired live ammunition and tear gas to disperse a series of protests demanding employment opportunities and better public services. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian security forces beat demonstrators peacefully protesting against the actions of their respective authorities.

The crackdown on civil society actors and political opponents increased significantly in three of the region’s most powerful states: Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Arbitrary detention of activists and government critics had a chilling effect on freedom of expression across the region. Authorities often used counter-terrorism and security-related laws, including cyber-crimes legislation, to justify arrests and bring prosecutions.
In Iran, the authorities arbitrarily detained thousands of individuals, subjecting hundreds to unfair trials, lengthy prison sentences, torture and other ill-treatment. They detained, prosecuted or continued to imprison at least 112 women human rights defenders, some in reprisal for their work, some for peacefully protesting against the abusive, discriminatory and degrading practice of forced hijab (veiling) by taking off their headscarves in public.
 In Egypt, the authorities arbitrarily arrested at least 113 people solely for peacefully expressing critical opinions, including many senior political figures who had publicly criticized the president or attempted to run against him in the presidential elections. They arrested over 30 human rights defenders, in some cases subjecting them to enforced disappearance for periods of up to 30 days. Two women were arrested and convicted by courts after they spoke out against sexual harassment in Egypt on their Facebook accounts.
In Saudi Arabia, the authorities harassed, arrested and prosecuted government critics, academics, clerics and human rights defenders. In May, they launched a wave of arrests that included at least eight women human rights defenders who had campaigned against the ban on women driving and the male guardianship system. By the end of the year, virtually all Saudi Arabian human rights defenders were in detention or serving prison terms, or had been forced to flee the country.
In the Maghreb, the Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian authorities all used penal code provisions to detain, prosecute and, in some cases, imprison journalists. In the Gulf, authorities in Bahrain and the UAE kept high-profile human rights defenders in jail on speech-related charges, while in Kuwait and Oman, government critics and protesters were arrested arbitrarily and, in some cases, prosecuted. Iraqi, Jordanian, Lebanese and Palestinian authorities also arbitrarily detained activists and others for voicing criticism of them or peacefully taking part in demonstrations. Israeli authorities used such measures to target activists, including human rights defenders, who criticized Israel’s continuing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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